Appendix XVII: Men of science and letters

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Men of science and letters

At least 80 of the Members are known to have published. The most famous authors in the House were probably Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, the essayists responsible for the Spectator and Tatler, among many other literary productions; the philosopher Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley); the political economist Charles Davenant; the playwright and historian Sir Robert Howard; and the poet Matthew Prior. A substantial number can be shown to have engaged in political pamphleteering, even if we exclude those, like Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt., Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Bt., and Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt., who gave their own speeches into the press. The best known and most effective political writers were Anthony Rowe, whose Letter to a Friend ..., appearing just before the1690 election, purported to publish a list of those who had voted in the Convention against the transfer of the crown, and was voted by the Commons ‘a false and scandalous libel’; the Whig politicians Sir John Somers and Robert Walpole II; Arthur Maynwaring, Swift’s antagonist on the Medley, and the several habitués of the Grecian Tavern, Robert Molesworth Walter Moyle, and Anthony Hammond. Among the Scots, Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt., published two essays in the Mercator in 1713 on the French Commercial Treaty, and the lord advocate, Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt., wrote on the lay patronages and forfeited estates bills, but the best known political writers were undoubtedly William Seton of Pitmedden and the Jacobite George Lockhart. Economic issues provoked a few Members to take up their pens, especially the projectors Nicholas Barbon and Thomas Neale, whose writings were intended first and foremost to advance their own vested interests, and Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt. North of the border we find Sir John Anstruther, 1st Bt., appearing as an agricultural expert with the publication of his Drill Husbandry, and the mentally unbalanced (Sir) Alexander Murray also using the press to rehearse personal grievances and promote fantastic schemes. Surprisingly few Members tackled religious subjects. Of those who did, the Devon lawyer Peter King, who by his flatterers was ‘reckoned one of the most religious persons in England’, compiled a scholarly Enquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity and Worship of the Primitive Church, which in effect sought to reconcile presbyterian ‘synods’ with episcopacy. But Sir Robert Howard and Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1st Bt., were openly anticlerical and suspiciously heterodox in their theology, while John ‘Translation’ Asgill offered one of the most eccentric interpretations of Christian doctrine even in this freethinking age. Less controversial, and more typical of the period, were the cluster of antiquarians, headed by Browne Willis, the author of (inter alia) Notitia Parliamentaria, and the Cornish local historian Thomas Tonkin, and a whole troop of gentlemen-amateurs who dabbled in literature, among whom may be mentioned the poets Lord Cutts (John), George Granville, Henry Heveningham, and William Walsh; the dramatists John Berkeley, 4th Viscount Fitzhardinge [I], and Richard Norton II; the classicists Hon. Arthur Annesley, Hon. Charles Boyle II, and Stephen Hervey; and the Speaker, (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II, who produced an insipid and bowdlerized edition of Shakespeare. The parliamentary diarist Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., published one or two odd pamphlets on miscellaneous political and religious themes, together with some grand jury charges (another easy route to publication which several Members followed), but wrote a great deal more which he (or his printers) withheld from the press, including verse satires, and even a political playlet.

Other Members may not have published very much, or indeed anything, themselves, but played a considerable part in promoting the work of others and the affairs of the republic of letters generally. Robert Harley patronized a herd of Grub Street hacks, gave them ideas, and may well have drafted some sections of their pamphlets himself. His counterpart on the Whig side was Charles Montagu, who was regarded by his protégés, and may have thought of himself, as the ‘Maecenas of the modern age’. Harley might also qualify as the greatest book collector of the early 18th century, an obsession in which he was followed by his son, Edward, his nephew Thomas Foley III, and friend Owen Brigstocke. Other noted bibliophiles included Lord Ailesbury’s heir, Charles, Lord Bruce, and, Richard Ellys. Of gentleman-antiquarians the House offered an almost inexhaustible supply: they included Rowland Cotton, William Master, Archdale Palmer, a small circle of north-country squires who figure in the correspondence of Ralph Thoresby, among them Theodore Bathurst and Roger Gale (the first vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries), and a significant number of Welshmen, many of whom are listed among the patrons of Edward Lluyd’s Archaeologia, Francis Gwyn, Thomas Mansel I, Sir Roger Mostyn, 3rd Bt., Sir Edward Stradling, 5th Bt., John Vaughan I.


The full list of Members known to have published their own writings (or editions) is as follows:

Joseph Addison

Hon. Arthur Annesley

John Anstis

Sir John Anstruther,1st Bt.

John Archdale

John Asgill

Anthony Ashley, Lord Ashley

Nicholas Barbon

John Berkeley, 4th Viscount Fitzhardinge [I]

John Blanch

Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1st Bt.

Hon. Charles Boyle II

William Bromley II

Josiah Burchett

Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.

Thomas Coningsby

Sir William Cowper, 2nd Bt.

William Cowper

Thomas Crosse

Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt.

John Cutts, 1st Baron Cutts [I]

Hon. Sir David Dalrymple

Charles Davenant

George Duckett

Richard Ellys

Roger Gale

George Granville

William Grimston

Sir Rowland Gwynne

Lord Archibald Hamilton

Anthony Hammond

Thomas Hanmer II

Hon. Hugh Hare

Sir Edward Harley

Robert Harley

John Hawles

Gilbert Heathcote

Stephen Hervey (Harvey)

Sir Richard Hoare

Sir Robert Howard

Archibald Hutcheson

Peter King

George Lockhart

William Lowndes

Sir Humphrey Mackworth

Arthur Maynwaring

Robert Molesworth

Charles Montagu

Edward Wortley Montagu

Hon. Harry Mordaunt

Sir Cleave More, 2nd Bt.

Walter Moyle

Thomas Neale

Richard Norton II

Charles Oliphant

Benjamin Overton

George Oxenden

John Parkhurst

Alexander Pitfield

Uvedale Tomkyns Price

Matthew Prior

William Pulteney

Anthony Rowe

Henry St. John II

George St. Loe

Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Bt.

William Seton

William Shippen

Sir Bartholomew Shower

Sir John Somers

James Stanhope

Richard Steele

Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt.

Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.

Joseph Tily

Thomas Tonkin

Robert Walpole II

William Walsh

John Ward IV

Browne Willis


While a good many of the Members were devotees of the new learning in natural philosophy, Isaac Newton should in all probability be distinguished as the only fully-fledged ‘scientist’among them, in the modern sense of the word. Sir Christopher Wren was the one other professional in the field, having held the Savilian chair of astronomy at Oxford from 1661 to 1673, though he was of course best known as an architect. Among the 67 fellows of the Royal Society (listed below) were a number who devoted much of their time to antiquarian and scholarly pursuits of various kinds, in particular the society’s secretary and treasurer Alexander Pitfield, the Irish officials Francis Robartes and Sir Cyril Wyche, both of whom were also members of the revived Dublin Philosophical Society; the inquisitive and ingenious Yorkshiremen Cyril Arthington, Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt., and Roger Gale; and the Scottish ‘virtuoso’ John Clerk of Penicuik. Although never an FRS, the Suffolk baronet Sir Dudley Cullum devoted himself to botany and horticulture, under the guidance of John Evelyn. Sir George Markham 3rd Bt., and Robert Molesworth were both members of a ‘new Junta for architecture’, and many other Members took a close interest in rebuilding on their estates, even playing a part themselves in planning and design. Finally, outside the refined atmosphere of gentlemanly learning, we may find the Southwark brewer Charles Cox, almost as a latter-day Gresham, sponsoring ‘public lectures in applied mathematics’, and the great ironmaster Sir Ambrose Crowley, promoting industrial innovative processes, albeit in the pursuit of profit rather than enlightenment.


The following Members were fellows of the Royal Society:

Hon. Arthur Annesley

Cyril Arthington

Robert Balle

Sir John Banks, 1st Bt.

Benjamin Bathurst

Hon. John Beaumont

Maurice Berkeley, 3rd Visct. Fitzhardinge [I]

Hon. Charles Boyle II

Owen Brigstocke

Walter Chetwynd I

Hon. George Cholmondeley

John Clerk

Sir Peter Colleton, 2nd Bt.

Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt.

William Cowper

Sir John Cutler, 1st Bt.

Sir Matthew Dudley, 2nd Bt.

John Evelyn II

Richard Foley

Thomas Foley III

John Fuller

Roger Gale

Sir Rowland Gwynne

Anthony Hammond

Sir Edward Harley

Edward, Ld. Harley

Robert Harley

George Hay, Visct. Dupplin

Gilbert Heathcote

Archibald Hutcheson

John Hutton II

Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh [I]

Peter King

Sir James Long, 2nd Bt.

James Lowther

Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I

Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II

Sir George Markham, 3rd Bt.

Sir Robert Marsham, 5th Bt.

Robert Molesworth

Charles Montagu

Thomas Neale

Isaac Newton

William Nicholas

Charles Oliphant

Sir Thomas Parker

Alexander Pitfield

Sir William Portman, 6th Bt.

Henry Powle

Matthew Prior

William Pulteney

Hon. Francis Robartes

Thomas Sclater (aft. Bacon)

Sir Philip Skippon

Sir John Somers

Charles Somerset, Mq. of Worcester

Edward Southwell

Charles Spencer, Ld. Spencer

Sir Philip Sydenham, 3rd Bt.

Silius Titus

Sir William Trumbull

Sir Joseph Williamson

Sir Thomas Willoughby, 2nd Bt.

Henry Worsley

Sir Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren

Sir Cyril Wych

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton

End Notes